Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Delitzsch UK (O46)

  Delitzsch UK is a major supplier of seed to the UK beet sugar industry. The annual value of the UK sugar beet seed market is around £13 million.


  The UK beet sugar industry is one of the most efficient producers of beet sugar in Europe. The high standards in production combined with minimum impact on the environment meet the requirements of consumers. Allied to this, effective pricing has ensured continuity of supply. As seed breeders we have played an integral part in this success through the development of improved varieties. The continued development of improved varieties is fundamental for the future of the industry. We believe that Option 1 of the EU proposals for the reform of the Sugar Regime provides the only sustainable way forward for all parties.


  1.  UK Sugar beet productivity has doubled since 1991-92, making it one of the most efficient beet sugar industries in Europe. Over the same period, the improvements in genetic potential have made a significant contribution to this success.

  2.  A high spend on research and development by the breeder, around 20% of turnover, has enabled this potential to be realised.

  3.  Increasing yield per unit area is unfortunately a double-edged sword. Ever higher output requires less and less hectares to grow the national quota and with it less seed in total and therefore less income to fund R&D.

  4.  Yield per unit area has not been the only breeding objective. Increasingly the breeder is being asked to find genetic solutions to pest, disease and agronomic problems that affect the crop. This is being accelerated by the recent reductions in chemical active ingredients that are available for use on the crop and the lack of new compounds from the chemical companies as they suffer similar funding constraints.

  5.  A good example of how genetics are being used to control disease is the development of rhizomania (Necrotic Yellow Vein Virus) resistant varieties. Our variety "Rosanna" was one of the first resistors to be introduced into UK. The effect of the resistance is to allow commercially acceptable yields to be achieved in the presence of the disease while at the same time minimising the build up of virus in the soil.

  Currently, we have two rhizomania resistant varieties in national trials which also have yields as good as the best susceptible varieties under non-infected conditions. This is a major step forward in maintaining the viability of the UK sugar beet crop as the number of recorded outbreaks of rhizomania increases each year.

  Without the resistant varieties, the disease can reduce yields by over 50%. Genetic resistance remains the only control for rhizomania.

  6.  In addition to rhizomania, we are being asked develop varieties with a raft of other traits and resistances. These include viral diseases, fungal diseases and pests either as single or combinations of resistances.

  7.  In the longer-term, the possible effects of greenhouse gases and the need for greater inputs into water management and conservation have raised calls for the development of drought resistant varieties.

  8.  From a breeder's point of view, the use of gene transfer techniques would significantly speed up the introduction of new traits. We also recognise that such technology can also benefit biodiversity through the use of safer chemical crop care products in what is already an environmentally friendly crop.

  9.  New traits are not confined to sugar production. Sugar beet can provide a feedstock for other industries such as bio-fuels. The use of bio-ethanol in fuel mixes will help meet future carbon dioxide emission levels agreed by the government.

  10.  Clearly, we should maintain a beet sugar industry in UK and Europe that provides stability in quality, supply and environmental compliance. Option 1 of the proposals is the only scenario to achieve this. At the same time this will create similar benefits for the lesser-developed countries to bring them up to our industry, environmental and social standards.

31 March 2004

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